Half a billion dollars. Think of that.
Most of us working folks have a tough time wrapping our brains and arms around the thought of a million. We've all done the mental massage where we think what we'd do if we won the lottery - and planned out how we would spend one million dollars.
Half a billion is five hundred million - or five hundred thousand thousand dollars. Whoa. Well buckle your seatbelts and hold on to your wallet, because that figure is being offered - with a straight face - as the potential cost to solve the wastewater issues in Falmouth.
This sweeping and unprecedented project is still in the planning stages, but make no mistake: it has already developed a life of its own and is on the fast track to legitimacy and financial commitment the likes of which this town has never imagined.
Half a billion dollars. Think of it this way: that equates to $14,285 for each and every resident of Falmouth.
That is not to say that dealing with our wastewater issues is not an important priority - it is - but the necessity has far outpaced the affordability and sometime soon, the bill will come due and many taxpayers will be asking why they were not briefed on this massive public works endeavor.
Taxpayers pay heed: Your chance is now to have your voice heard while the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan is being developed. This effort cannot be a needs-only driven issue - the costs must drive some of the dialogue - and we cannot be forced into a corner where we are told that "they" already decided it is a necessity. We - the column writers, firefighters, and tree climbers - are the "they" and we must be consulted before the GDP of Grenada is spent in Falmouth.
Town Manager Bob Whritenour was recently said, "This is the most substantial commitment residents have ever made to a community project." That sounds like a nice sound bite, but I don't remember the citizens making any commitment yet.
Yes, the issue has been discussed and debated at selectmen's meetings and town meeting. Yes, the community has taken on wastewater management and nitrogen mitigation as an important issue, and yes, Falmouth has always been a leader in addressing environmental issues in the region. But, no, the taxpayers have not yet said yes to a half-billion dollar sewer project and the associated engineering, design, and construction impacts. And no one - from selectmen to DPW officials to environmental activists - should consider this project a given until the people have spoken with their votes and their wallets.
This initiative makes the high school construction project look like the little red schoolhouse. Former selectman and DPW Director Nate Ellis used to say that as long as there is a breath left in any taxpayer, no decision of the town is final. We've got to breathe all over this one.
I've seen this happen before. An idea with merit is discussed at a selectmen's meeting and all agree it is a good idea, and that a committee should take a closer look. Soon enough, that "take a closer look" is given a dash of committee input, a sprinkle of knowledge, and a heap of good will and has blossomed into a hearty mandate with nary a second look and the idea is driving itself straight to town meeting and the ballot box.
Before this issue drives itself anywhere, there are half a billion reasons why the brakes should be put on and some frank talk about needs vs. dollars should occur.